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EIT graduate and students take top three places at Hawke’s Bay Young Fruit Grower of the Year

June 9, 2022

EIT graduate Maatu Akonga (middle) won the recent Young Fruit Grower of the Year competition, while Alix Te Kere (left) and Ben Jarvis (right), both currently completing the EIT’s apprenticeship programme, came second and third respectively.

An EIT graduate and two current horticultural apprentices have taken the top three spots in the annual Hawke’s Bay Young Fruit Grower of the Year competition.

The annual event, held recently, saw young competitors put through a series of challenges on the first day, with speech competition at a gala dinner on the second evening. EIT is one of the partner sponsors of the competition. Eight finalists were chosen from a host of entries, but only seven competed in the first day’s events as one had to withdraw.

Coming out tops of in this year’s event was Maatu Akonga (Ngāti Porou, Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Kahungunu), who graduated from EIT’s apprenticeship programme with a Certificate in Horticulture (Fruit Production) [Level 3] in 2014 and the NZ Certificate in Horticulture (Fruit Production) [Level 4] in 2017. He works for Turners & Growers where he is an assistant manager at their orchards in Twyford.

Maatu, who will now represent Hawke’s Bay at the National Young Fruit Grower of the Year competition in September, says he was not expecting the victory.

The road to this point in his career has been full of challenges for Maatu, juggling a growing family, part-time and then full-time work and his studies, but it has been worth it.

“I found the competition quite an eye-opening experience, but it gave me a good benchmark of where I’ve come from and where I’m at now. I can see where I need to progress in my career to make it a little bit better and get more knowledge.”

Maatu, 28, enjoyed the challenges, but felt it was the Speech where he was able to do well. His topic, which was provided by the judges, was Horticulture Matters: Closing the rural-urban divide.

“In my speech, I focused on changing the mindsets of our rural and urban people and bringing them together, because I think there is a misunderstanding in the urban areas about what orchardists and other growers do.”

Second place went to Alix Te Kere, 29, who has worked for Rockit Apples for five years and is currently doing the Level 4 Horticulture Apprenticeship Programme at EIT. Alix, Ngati Kahungunu, has also been promoted to Health and Safety advisor for Rockit Management Services.

She says she had been a reserve for the Hawke’s Bay finals last year but had decided not to enter this year. Her managers at Rockit had other ideas though and encouraged her to give it another go.

“My boss and the CEO said: ‘Come on, just give it a crack. You’ll do good,’ and so I did. I was not expecting to be placed, to be honest, but I am pleased that I was.”

Alix’s speech for the competition was Beauty is only skin deep: Is there a future for imperfect fruit?

Ben Jarvis, who is currently completing Level 4 of EIT’s Horticulture Apprenticeship Programme, picked up third spot in the competition. Ben, 25, works as an Orchardist for Mr Apple, where he has been for five years.

He says he enjoyed the challenges.

“Each one was a bit different, so you had to prove yourself in all of them. For my speech, my topic was Our global position and whether we can compete in the markets of tomorrow.”

As for the future, Ben plans to study further and will start the EIT’s NZ Diploma in Horticulture Production (Fruit Production) next year.

Clare Buckner, who is Programme Coordinator for EIT’s fruit production programmes in the School of Primary Industries, says it was good to see so many EIT apprentices competing in the Young Fruit Grower of the Year competition and doing so well.

“It was really pleasing to see them use the theory that they have learnt as part of the EIT apprenticeship programme being applied in the competition in workplace situations, and hope that the experience has encouraged them to reach further, to keep learning and challenging themselves.”